Cultivating Humility (Growing Spiritually in the Academic Life Series)

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At Emerging Scholars Network, we love to crowdsource ideas for following Christ faithfully and serving others well in the academic life. In the 2018/2019 academic year, we’ve been sharing brief insights on how to grow spiritually in the academic life. Read the series to date here. For more of Johnny Lin’s writing for ESN, click here

A major “spiritual occupational hazard” for an academic is thinking too much of yourself. This can show itself as pride and arrogance . . . or finding yourself unable to understand the students in a class you’ve taught one too many times.

The traditional antidote to pride has been humility. For an academic, C.S. Lewis’s view of humility as a kind of “self-forgetfulness” is particularly helpful: Do I rejoice in another’s accomplishments no more (or less) than if it were my own (or if it were a phenomena of nature)? Here are some ways of nurturing this kind of humility:

  • Practice the truth that you are not your job: Take a Sabbath (and no emails!). Purpose that at every conference you attend you’ll meet someone who cannot help your career.
  • Purposely pursue and embrace mystery in some area of life.
  • Bring every aspect of your career to God in surrender and trust: Rice University chemist James Tour literally brought his funding proposals to the front of the chapel of his school and prayed over them.
  • Be a debtor not a creditor of love: Avoid thinking others owe you this or that but instead consider yourself as owing others a debt of love: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 13:8, NIV)
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Johnny Wei-Bing Lin

Johnny is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Computing Education in the Computing and Software Systems Division of the U. of Washington Bothell and an Affiliate Professor of Physics and Engineering at North Park U. He is the author of the textbook A Hands-On Introduction to Using Python in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the environmental ethics book The Nature of Environmental Stewardship. Johnny is a past Executive Council President of the American Scientific Affiliation, a network of Christians in the sciences. He has three children (Timothy, James, and Christianne) and one wife (Karen) who keep him busy and happy, not necessarily in that order.

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